Having risen from addiction, Jim Martin toils as the ‘Loneliness Terminator’

Jim Martin is a community activist whose mission is helping those in need.

His heart truly beats for those facing the demons of loneliness, homelessness and addiction.

He knows that all too well, having risen from alcohol/pain killer drug addiction to being a voice for the homeless and addicts.

30 Q & A Jim Martin

Jim Martin

“The gift of gab,” he calls it.

He has facilitated the opening of nearly two dozen three-quarter type houses for male addicts and the homeless, stretching from Wilmington to Sussex County. He lives in one in Georgetown.

Mr. Martin wears many hats. He has an impressive resume:

  • Director of the A.C.E. Peer Resource Center;
  • Program Manager: Haven at the Peer Recovery House, Seaford;
  • Chairperson, Sussex County Action Prevention Coalition – anti-drug coalition;
  • On-site House Manager, New Street Recovery House for Men, Georgetown;
  • Secretary, Delaware Consumer Recovery Coalition;
  • Board Member, Voting – Continuum of Care Board, Homeless Planning Council of Delaware;
  • Board Member, Advisory Board of the Delaware Psychiatric Hospital;
  • Board Member, Voting- Governor’s Advisory Council to DSAMH;
  • Committee Member, Voting – Delaware Center for Health Innovation – Healthy Neighborhoods Committee.

Interestingly, he has one other descriptive.

“I’m still technically homeless,” he says.

Mr. Martin is married, has four daughters, one son and four grandkids.

He grew up in the Philadelphia area and is a Villanova University graduate.

“I took the long-range plan, an 8-year educational plan,” said Mr. Martin. “I went to night school, and finally graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1985. It was General Studies. I sat down with the counselor and I said, ‘What is the quickest way out of here.’”

If you don’t already know him, here is James C. Martin Jr.:

How did you get off on the wrong track?

“Basically I paid for college myself through employment at Howard Johnson’s – I was a short-order cook. I also worked at a ‘mom and pop’ deli. I think that is where I developed my personality but also a developed a drinking habit because they sold beer. That is where it started. It was alcohol and painkillers. I had some back problems and I was diagnosed with some pretty severe pain and back then it wasn’t a big deal to have 30 Percocets. Then you start down that road and everyone thought it was the thing to do. It was still opiates, still a dangerous thing.”

Your life’s “rock bottom” actually is a rock?

“It’s called my ‘white rock’ story. There is a white rock somewhere along the Coastal Highway. I was sitting on it and that was my bottom. When I was in Wilmington, the library was the safest place for me, I thought. Then I was thinking, ‘I am going to head down to Sussex County.’ I had never been to Sussex County before. I got on the beach bus. They dropped me off in Rehoboth. I didn’t have any leverage, other than to sit on the white rock for a while. I sat on the white rock for a few days. That was 7 years ago.”

What was your next chapter?

“Then I found an awesome program called Oxford House in Lewes. They accepted me. I basically within a week was transformed from a nobody to a somebody, because they elected me secretary – keeping notes of meetings. It turned me back on. In the shelters I felt like a nobody. Everything was chosen for you. The shelter, of course they are kind and everything like that, but you still feel like a nobody. But Oxford House, that is an empowering program. You get the key to the front door. You can come and go as you please. It’s a sober program. Basically the two things you have to do are pay the rent and stay sober. The fog started to lift.”

Then you put your talent to use?

“My real talent was working with people because of my earlier background. I just decided to throw everything, all the marbles I had into the effort of replicating Oxford House. I had nothing to lose. It turned out to be a good gamble. I am just gifted at solving problems and figuring things out. I look at people square in the eye and say, ‘OK, let’s figure this out. This is not a game here. This is really life and death here. Let’s get you a tent. Let’s get you a sleeping bag.’ I started working with the homeless almost from day 1. And now, 23 houses later … sometimes I open up a house without any paperwork.”

“The gift of gab allowed me to get within the graces of other people. They trust me, thank God they trust me.”

In general, how do those “houses” function?

“At first you’ll have some people that are giving you the hairy eyeball and saying I don’t know if I want to do this. Well, there is the door. Let’s get busy living here. If you want to get busy dying then you can do that out on the street.”

“You’ve got to clean the bathroom, the sink, stop drinking … stop being a knucklehead. Alcoholics and drug addicts are very smart. They are very street smart. We’ve got to know where every cent goes; no shortcuts. Twenty-three houses later I have learned a lot about how to develop a recovery community, how to develop a team. It is about the team. It is not about me. It’s about what we can do together. Of course we want you to get from point A to point B. We want you to achieve your goals. We want you to have a life. Work the slow nickels first; the fast dimes will come if you stay sober and stay clean.”

“One of their methodologies is to be very good neighbors. I wanted the three-quarter house to be the face of recovery. We’re going to cut our grass. We’re not going to have any parties. We’re going to the quietest house on the block. We’re going to go to work. We’re not going to throw our cigarette butts on the front lawn. We are going to work 10 times harder at being good neighbors.”

One of the 23 houses is the New Street Recovery House for Men in Georgetown, where you are the on-site manager:

“It is an awesome house, one of the 23. I started it, left, and then I came back to it. The landlord invited me back.

You live there, pay rent, and are one of the guys, just like everyone else?

“I live in the loft of the garage, with my wife. Then there are nine guys in the house. It’s an 11- bed facility. I pay rent by the way, and I pay a little bit more. I come to the table.”

And if democracy rules, you can get tossed – or voted – out of the house you opened?

“Yes, you can be voted out of your house. You teach them the democratic voting procedure, and you can get voted out of your own house. It could happen. Like if they don’t like your attitude: say you didn’t do the dishes; you brought your girlfriend in and she stayed too long … you’re gone! Seriously, I was tossed out of a house in Wilmington. They just didn’t like my attitude. I was coming down on the smokers pretty hard. I am not a smoker. It was like, ‘It smells like smoke in the house all of the time.’ There was like six smokers against two non- smokers. They won. I was voted out. I congratulated them. I just opened up another house.”

“That is why I have so much compassion for people that are homeless. What I try to work on is striving and thriving. Step one is get a job. If you are not disabled get yourself a job. No excuses. It took me seven years to get myself to a point where I actually got my first credit card a couple weeks ago. It was a small line of credit. I’m still technically homeless.”

Dealing with people battling to exorcise addiction demons is not easy, is it?

“You have to be thick skinned and can’t be faint of heart. Life is extremely messy. The addictions that we are dealing with are savagely terrible, because we have heroin. Heroin is to me absolutely beastly, evil and savagely terrible stuff and it is destroying people’s lives. I am honored to be in the fight. If I can be a lighthouse for people, an example of someone who has walked the walk and now I’m talking the talk and trying to show people the way.”

“The only way you are going to beat heroin is to have 100 of these (houses) all over the county in every community. It’s about replication. We need an Oxford House on every single block. There are a lot of knuckleheads, people that need a second chance. They just didn’t get it right the first time. Sobriety is something you fight for. It is something you work at every day. And you can’t let your guard down.”

Faith is a tool in your toolbox?

“I’ll ask, ‘Have you ever thought about going to church? Pick a religion. I don’t care what it is.’ Once you pick I am going to try to navigate you to the church. I’ll call the pastor. I’ll get you a meeting. Let’s make that happen. I really believe in spiritual recovery.”

What do you want your legacy to be?

“’Loneliness Terminator’ is what I want people to call me. It is a vicious world out there and loneliness and isolation can lead to that really bad stuff quick. That’s why I think people go down that road to bad choices, trying to medicate that. You accept them in and they are part of a family. ‘Loneliness Terminator’ is my main title here. I want that on my tombstone.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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